Compiled from JNS News Service and local reports
SDEROT, Israel —With only a short time to recover from their jet lag, a group of 51 evangelical Christian pastors representing every U.S. state and the District of Columbia embarked in early August to the frontline of the current Gaza conflict as part of a three-day mission organized by Christians United For Israel (CUFI).
“While Israel’s been at war, our pastors and leaders have wanted to do something concrete to demonstrate their support and solidarity,” said David Brog, CUFI executive director. So the organization took 51 pastors — one from every state in the union plus the District of Columbia — to Israel in a trip organized in only 72 hours.
“Each of these pastors represents those of our 1.8 million CUFI members who live in their state,” said Brog.
Representing the Northwest were Denny Stahl, pastor of Calvary Chapel Grants Pass in Oregon; Mark Biltz, pastor of El Shaddai Ministries near Tacoma, Wash., and author of the best-selling Christian book Blood Moons: Decoding the Imminent Heavely Signs; and Dave McGarrah, pastor of Deer Flat Free Methodist Church in Caldwell, Idaho, and former pastor of Salem First Church of the Nazarene in Oregon.
Other pastors on the trip included such prominent names as Todd Burpo of Nebraska, author of the best-seller Heaven is for Real that inspired the recent movie of the same name; and Jim Garlow of Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, Calif.
After receiving briefings from high-level government officials in Jerusalem, the group headed down to the war-weary southern region of the Jewish state to show solidarity with the Israelis most affected by the Gaza conflict.
Upon arriving in the rocket-battered Negev city of Sderot, the pastors got a taste of the conflict by receiving a “code red” notification from the new Red Alert App that warns Israelis of rocket attacks from Gaza — but it turned out to be a false alarm. Sderot residents welcomed the group for lunch, with a restaurant owner telling the pastors that they came at a very fortunate time due to the reaching of a 72-hour cease-fire between Hamas and Israel that lasted for several days.
“It’s been the quietest it’s been in a long time,” the owner of the falafel shop in Sderot said during their visit.
The trip was the sixth to Israel for Stahl, but his second with CUFI, for which he serves as Oregon director. He noted that the American pastors’ visit was national news in Israel.
“It was an incredible trip,” he said. “It was extraordinary … “It wasn’t a sightseeing tour; it was a mission. Everywhere we went, people were shocked that we were there at that time, but also very grateful for our coming.”
Stahl said it was timely to have representatives from all states take part in the trip.
“What I see is this wonderful convergence of men and women who are really aware that we need to show solidarity between the Church and Israel,” he said.
The visit by the U.S. pastors came at an important time for Israel. After a month of heavy fighting and unrelenting rocket attacks, Israel, which had record-high numbers of tourists in the first half of 2014, has felt the economic toll of the latest Gaza conflict. Operation Protective Edge has seen the Jewish state suffer the loss of tourism revenue due to the constant barrage of Hamas rockets, and according to the Israeli government, the overall cost of the monthlong Gaza conflict was upwards of $4.3 billion.
At the time, Israeli officials hoped that Hamas would honor the various ceasefires declared since then and that a diplomatic solution can be worked out in Egypt.
But those hopes have been shattered as hundreds of rockets are again hitting Israel at press time for this newspaper.